One beautiful ingredient and how it inspires and delights!
Imagine a young eggplant freshly picked fresh from the garden. That gorgeous purple and green is kissed, styled and captured before being halved, scored, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt and spices and then roasted in a hot oven. This might seem like a hostile way to honour its beauty, however, after 40 minutes, out comes the soft, smoky sweetness which is not at all bitter like some of its older siblings. The roasted 'meat' is then combined with toasted seeds and nuts, fresh lemon juice, tahini, olive oil and garlic. Sounds like the usual baba ganoush, right? Well yes, but bear with me while I reminisce and tell you why I took this recipe a little bit further.
When I was growing up in Jamaica in the sixties, my parents, sisters and brothers and I, all eight of us, sat at the table for dinner every evening. Our parents gave us the 'eye' if we so much as made a face at the meal, which mainly consisted of meat protein and starch loaded fare. Vegetables and salads were an afterthought and a vegetarian meal unheard of in our family. Even today, salads are not always an important part of Jamaican meals but thankfully, as the goodness in plant based meals is better understood, greens are becoming more popular and with that an increased respect for individual food choices. With those draconian days went much precious family time. We talked, laughed and shared our daily stories at the dining table, even as we covertly fed bits of our unwanted dinner to the dogs and tried not to sulk. Now we may be more conscious about having everyone in our family happily fed and watered, but it can be time-consuming for the busy designated cook and a very tough act to satisfy everyone in the family!
My own family is no different. We enjoy totally different eating styles. My husband likes hearty and starchy and meat protein with his greens. I like greens, lighter and mostly vegetarian food. In research for my cookbook, I realised that this was not unusual and I pondered how to write recipes that would satisfy how we, as families, eat today.
With a wide variety of fresh wholesome ingredients available from farmers markets, or better yet, from your own garden, I included vegetables and fruit of all shapes and colours in my recipes. I used foods from all food groups flavoured with unusual spices from my homeland and far off places. Textures from old world grain ensured hearty meals with nourishment from tiny, though powerful, seeds and nuts. I didn't want a book of no-no's nor would I presume to tell people how they should eat, but what I did want to do was place the emphasis on the quality of ingredients rather than on a particular kind of diet. This became the base of all my recipes. I kept the recipes mostly plant based, vegan and vegetarian but suggested simple tweaks for satisfying the flexitarians and omnivores in our families.
For this recipe I veered from from my basic baba ganoush recipe (page 42 of My Goodness! Greens) and made what I call a spread with a bit of oomph! In went a cup of cooked mung-beans (mung-beans are excellent for sprouting too). Then a couple table spoons of cooked grain, I used freekeh (try quinoa or bulgur or any wholesome grain will work), cilantro instead of parsley because I had all of this on hand in the fridge, a few pitted black olives, a good sprinkle of Zaatar and a little extra sumac. Nutrient packed, filled with greens and herbs, my secret weapon has been to always serve a good spread, dressing or dip. Even the skeptics among us will eat every leaf, as they drain the dressing bottle. I learnt that from the mouth of babes. When school children visited the farm, at the end of the farm tour, we would serve a mixed green organic salad from our fields. This was the first time some kids were tasting a variety of salad greens, as a meal, especially topped with a nasturtium flowers. Once the dressing was drizzled and they tasted, I was delighted when they asked for more!
I served this spread alongside large salad leaves like radicchio, lettuce and kale, to be filled with a generous dollop of the spread, rolled and enjoyed in big bites. Or, spread on pitas, these were home-made (more on that recipe soon) for my hubby who stuffed them with the smoky spread and salad leaves.
With fresh vegetables, all it takes is a few simple ingredients to take it to oh my goodness kind of deliciousness! While this spread may not be a complete meal, it has all the elements of one! Nutritious, delicious and very satisfying and would be a hearty addition to the table. As I write, I give thanks for an edible garden. It opened a whole new world of beautiful food to me, made me a more thoughtful cook, sharpened my styling skills, inspired me to write, rooted me to my small rural community, showed me how to eat simply, to honour the ingredients and how to keep us together at the same table... well most of the time!
My Goodness! Greens cookbook is available on this website, just clink on our Home page!
AN AUBERGINE SPREAD WITH OOMPH🍃🍆🍃
1 medium or large aubergine (eggplant) - scored and roasted in oven or barbecue until soft and tender
Juice of 1 lemon
2 T tahini
1 cup mung beans - cooked (you can use chickpeas)
1/4 cup almonds - toasted
1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
3 cloves garlic - peeled and smashed
6 pitted black olives
1/2 cup cilantro or parsley
1/4 t Zaatar
Pinch or two sumac
Pinch smoked paprika
1/4 cup of extra virgin olive oil - more for desired thickness
Sea salt to taste
Cool and scoop out the 'meat' of the eggplant and combine with all the other ingredients in a food processor.
Run the food processor, turning it off and scraping down the sides at intervals. Add a little more olive oil if desired. Process until smooth and creamy.
Serve with a variety of fresh salad leaves such as radicchio, lettuce, arugula, and kale, and vegetables like kale and sweet cherry tomatoes and toasted or grilled pitas.🍃